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What Consumers Risk When They Put All Their Data in a Public Cloud

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Are consumers better off putting everything in the cloud?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal asked that question and presented answers by two industry pundits:  Frank Gillett of Forrester Research and Triona Guidry of Guidry Consulting, Inc.

Before considering their answers, it’s worth noting that consumers unquestionably are trusting more of their data to cloud services. Every day, millions of consumers trust Dropbox with files ranging from family photos to financial spreadsheets to confidential customer records. Consumers also trust their confidential files to Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Zoho, and other public cloud services.

Should consumers trust cloud services?

Yes, says Frank Gillett of Forrester Research. He points out that without cloud services, our mobile devices become far less useful. We need access to our data for those “mobile moments” where we’re going to make a decision or take action on the go. As for security, he maintains that cloud services do a much better job addressing data security and service availability than average consumers can do on their own. He also believes that, in light of recent news stories about data breaches and subpoenas from government agencies, cloud service providers now feel compelled to demonstrate that they are committed to safeguarding consumer data. Consumers, therefore, should trust the cloud and take advantage of the convenience of anywhere, anytime data access. Consumers who refrain from adopting cloud services have more or less confined themselves to the PC era with its limited, immobile access to data and services.

Triona Guidry counters that when consumers use cloud services, they trade security and reliability for convenience. She points out that security breaches have become so common that risks of identity theft now seem ubiquitous. Data assumed to be confidential might not be, since cloud service providers mine consumers’ data for advertising purposes. Also, cloud service providers are not as trustworthy as they are often portrayed to be. She cites a survey that predicts that 25% of the top Internet service vendors will be out of business by 2015. So much for business continuity.

Guidry recommends that consumers set up their own local services that they can closely monitor and control. While non-technical consumers are not likely to follow this advice, small businesses and larger businesses certainly can, and should.

Private cloud services offer the convenience of file sync and sharing lauded by Gillett, while avoiding the risks of security breaches, service outages, and business failures cited by Guidry. Business data, particularly confidential business data, has no place in a public cloud whose vendor claims rights of re-use and publication (as Google does for Google Drive) or who has failed to protect customers from spamming or accounts going half a business day with password protection turned off (as Dropbox has).

Consumers using cloud services should choose prudently, avoiding risks and realizing the benefits of convenient access and improved productivity. Businesses on the other hand, who have IT experts available to them, should move towards private cloud services that enable users to enter the mobile-first era, knowing that their data will be both available and secure.

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